Wabowden award-winning film "…And This Is My Garden" at RNFF doc night Jan. 12

An innovative gardening program at Mel Johnson School in Wabowden is the subject of an award-winning film screening at Reel North Film Festival's first documentary night of 2011 Jan. 12 at 7 p.m. in the Basement Bijou Room of Thompson Public Library.

"And This Is My Garden," by Winnipeg filmmaker Katharina Stieffenhofer of Growing Local Productions, won the Most Inspirational award at last year's EcoFocus Film Festival in Athens, Georgia. The 58-minute documentary plays at 7 p.m. Wednesday night and admission is free.

Two days later, at noon EST on Jan. 14, it screens at the fifth annual Princeton Environmental Film Festival at the Princeton Public Library on Witherspoon Street in Princeton, New Jersey. More than 4,000 people attended last year's Princeton Environmental Film Festival, which won the 2009 Chicago-based American Library Association's Public Library Association (PLA) Highsmith Library Innovation Award, honouring a public library's innovative or creative service program.

Stieffenhofer is presenting the film in association with Buffalo Gal Pictures of Winnipeg. Phyllis Lang, Liz Jarvis, and Jean du Toit's Buffalo Gal Pictures merged with Tina Keeper's Keeper Productions to form Kistikan Pictures last November. Kistikan is Cree for "garden." Keeper was the Liberal Member of Parliament for Churchill riding from 2006 through 2008, and is a member of the Norway House Cree Nation.

Reel North Film Festival, now in its eighth year, under the direction of Lisa Evasiuk - and in partnership with administrator Cheryl Davies of the Thompson Public Library - has over the last several years, gradually expanded from a three-day film extravaganza of indie and alternative films, traditionally shown the first weekend in November, to adding Saturday night double-feature movies from fall through spring, and as of Nov. 24, 2009, monthly weeknight documentaries, which debuted in front of a full house with Food, Inc., a 94-minute documentary about the U.S. food industry, which was nominated in the category of distinguished documentary achievement for an International Documentary Association award in 2009. And This Is My Garden premiered in Wabowden last May. It is the story of the school gardening project created by Mel Johnson teachers Eleanor Woitowicz, herself an avid gardener, and Bonnie Monias, in which students plant and maintain gardens at their homes.

Weather permitting, Woitowicz and Monias plan to come into Thompson from Wabowden for the showing of the film. Wabowden is 111 kilometres southwest of Thompson.

Both Bowden Lake and Wabowden were named in August 1913 after W.A. Bowden, chief engineer at the time for the federal Department of Railways and Canals. Bowden, a McGill University engineering graduate, was born in 1872 at Melbourne, Que. and died in 1924. It started out in the early 1900s as a small settlement made up of a few families from Cross Lake and Nelson House in an area called Monkey Town, on the shores of Setting Lake, which owes its name to freight activity to "set" on shore waiting bad weather.

"It's been really well received everywhere we've shown it," says Stieffenhofer. "I've had people watch it and actually go out and start gardens."

Last year was the fifth year," explains Stieffenhofer. "They're up to 73 gardens. What I thought was so unique was that they continued to garden." Many students try to keep their gardens going even after they've moved on to higher grades in school.

Stieffenhofer first became aware of the project while attending a conference at the University of Winnipeg in February 2009. She was already interested in the Edible Schoolyard, a similar project in Berkeley, California, where the gardening is done on-site at the school. After seeing a presentation by Woitowicz and Monias, she knew she had to find out more.

"Right then and there, I decided I wanted to do a documentary about it," she says. "I wanted to tell the world. I was so inspired by what they were doing. It was way ahead of the Edible Schoolyard program."

Woitowicz and Monias got on board with Stieffenhofer's idea, and helped put her in touch with everybody in Wabowden she'd need to talk to - not just teachers and students, but also nurses and the owner of the grocery store, looking at the idea of Wabowden food production from all angles.

"School gardening is a way to encourage healthy lifestyles," says Stieffenhofer. "If somebody grows their own food, they're much more likely to eat food they normally wouldn't eat." Stieffenhofer suggests that gardening is an effective long-term solution for feeding the North, as the transport costs to bring fresh produce up from southern communities can be expensive.

"The North can feed itself," she says. "You just have to do it. Northern agriculture is a viable option."

Stieffenhofer, who grew up on a farm in Germany and whose parents emigrated to Canada in the late 1970s, now owning a grain farm outside Winnipeg, points out that there has been agriculture in the North before. In the 1940s, there were gardening contests held at all Hudson's Bay Co. trading posts, while potatoes and barley have also been grown in Wabowden in the past.

Much of the credit for the success of the entire gardening program, says Stieffenhofer, is due to the commitment and compassion of Woitowicz, who will visit her students at home to check up on their gardens well outside of regular school hours. "She's gone out of her way and donated so much of her time to go out and support the kids and support their progress. It would be wonderful if we could clone her," Stieffenhofer chuckles, also praising Woitowicz for her "fabulous teaching style."

One of the biggest surprises for both Stieffenhofer, when she was in Wabowden, and southern audiences once they have seen the film, was the portrayal of the community and by extension all of Northern Manitoba. "I had no idea that the North was so beautiful," says Stieffenhofer. "We always get these negative stereotypes of the North and Northern communities. People are saying it's so great to see a positive image of the North."

Stieffenhofer has spent much of her life promoting sustainability, especially in schools. She previous worked as an educational outreach co-ordinator for Growing Up Organic, an initiative designed to promote organic food in childcare centres, with the thinking that starting children with organic food early in life will lead to them accepting it as they get older. "I went into schools and talked about benefits of local, environmental food," she says of that experience. She is now looking at ways to turn fish waste into fertilizer, which she sees as a tremendous opportunity - particularly when it comes to employment - for the North.

The gardening project has also been featured on the David Suzuki "Digs My Garden" website, while Woitowicz and Monias, along with Frontier School Division assistant superintendent Don McCaskill, travelled to New York City last May to present the gardening project to the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development.

You can watch a YouTube trailer for "And This Is My Garden" at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RS99UQRdqX0 or visit the film's website at: http://www.andthisismygarden.com/

Manitoba Education Minister Nancy Allan says projects like this teach children important skills, such as food production, healthy eating and connecting to the land.

"We're proud to know Manitoba teachers are being recognized for developing this innovative project and have this opportunity to share their experiences with others."

The project, called the Mel Johnson School Gardening Project, started up in 2006 as part of Frontier School Division's science curriculum "Veggie Adventures." Seeds sprout in a greenhouse and are transplanted into gardens around the school in Wabowden once they've sprouted.

The project was one of three that were selected as "good practice" examples by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe that were presented at last year's Commission on Sustainability.

Reel North's mandate is to showcase a variety of Manitoban, Canadian and international films, bringing cinema to Thompson, which is rarely accessible otherwise in the North. It works closely with the Winnipeg Film Group, a non-profit founded in 1974, and Film Circuit, a division of the Toronto International Film Festival Group, whose mandate includes providing filmgoers in "under-served communities, transformative experiences through access to Canadian and international independent films they would otherwise not have the opportunity to see."

With over 190 groups in 166 communities across Canada, Film Circuit is intended to help the Toronto International Film Festival Group building markets and audiences for Canadian work.

article continues below
© Copyright Thompson Citizen


NOTE: To post a comment you must have an account with at least one of the following services: Disqus, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ You may then login using your account credentials for that service. If you do not already have an account you may register a new profile with Disqus by first clicking the "Post as" button and then the link: "Don't have one? Register a new profile".

The Thompson Citizen welcomes your opinions and comments. We do not allow personal attacks, offensive language or unsubstantiated allegations. We reserve the right to edit comments for length, style, legality and taste and reproduce them in print, electronic or otherwise. For further information, please contact the editor or publisher, or see our Terms and Conditions.

comments powered by Disqus